Define the term criminal conspiracy? What are its essential ingredients? What is difference between abetment and criminal conspiracy.   [MPCJ 2011]

Ans. In the original I.P.C., the criminal conspiracy in the sticto sensu was absent. It existed only by way of abetment under section 107-clause secondly of the IPC. Subsequent to addition of Sec. 120 A & B in IPC vide 1913 amendment, the scope of criminal conspiracy has expanded and assumed the character of a substantive offence. This has also assimilated the law of criminal conspiracy in India with that of England.

Definition:- For the first time, the House of Lord in England evolved a new criminal jurisprudence in the form of criminal conspiracy in its judgment Mulcahy vs Regina: (1868) LR HL 306. Later on, Lord Brampton defined Criminal conspiracy in leading case of Quinn v. Leathem (1901) AC 495 (528). The aforesaid definition is also reflected under S. 120-A of the IPC and goes to state that when two or more persons agree to do or cause to be done an illegal act or an act which is not illegal by illegal means. It is further added by virtue of ‘Proviso’ in the section that except when the agreement is to commit an offence in order to constitute criminal conspiracy some act in addition to such agreement is also required to be done.

Essential ingredients:- Recently, Hon’ble Apex court in Rajiv Kumar vs State Of Uttar Pradesh (2017) 8 SCC 791 highlighted the necessary constituent element of criminal conspiracy. The aforesaid ingredients are being discussed one after other –

(i) There has to be an agreement to cause an illegal act or an act which is not illegal in itself by way of illegal means. So long as a design rests in intention only, howsoever horrendous it may be, it is not indictable because conspiracy consists not merely in the intention of two or more but in the agreement of two or more. The essence of the offence of conspiracy is the meeting of minds and such combination or association is itself the gist of the offence. So, it is the unlawful agreement which is the gravemen of the crime of conspiracy.

Since, the offence of criminal conspiracy has its foundation in an agreement to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means. Since, the offence of criminal conspiracy has its foundation in an agreement to commit an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means. Section 43 of IPC defines expression ‘illegal’ to cover everything which is an offence or which is prohibited by law or which furnishes ground for a civil action. Such unlawful agreement which amounts to a conspiracy need not be formal or express, but may be inherent in and inferred from the circumstances, especially declarations, acts and conduct of the conspirators. It is also not necessary that each conspirator must know all the details of the scheme nor be a participant at every stage.

The crux of the aforementioned law has been nicely summed up by Hon’ble Apex Court in Esher Singh vs State Of Andhra Pradesh (2004) 11 SCC 585 is that when two or more person agree to carry out an illegal act or a legal act by illegal means into effect, then the very plot is an act in itself, and an act of each of the parties, promise against promise, actus contra actum, is punishable.

(2) The agreement must be between two or more natural persons: It is an established rule of the law of conspiracy that there should be at least two persons. The Hon’ble Apex court in Topandas vs The State of Bombay AIR 1956 SC 33 held that it is a principle of common sense that one person alone can never be held guilty of criminal conspiracy for the simple reason that one cannot conspire with oneself. But, Hon’ble Apex court has also visualised the possibility in Bimbadhar Pradhan vs The State Of Orissa AIR 1956 SC 469 when a person may be indicted alone for conspiring with persons who are unknown, dead, uncaught, incapable of committing the crime or immune or have been pardoned.

(3) If such agreement is to commit offence, then it is ipso facto sufficient to constitute criminal conspiracy and in all other cases an act besides agreement is also needed: The ‘Proviso’ attached to the section 120 A of the act draws distinction between an agreement to commit offence and all other agreement such as an act forbidden by law etc. While in the former case agreement on its own constitutes the criminal conspiracy but in the latter cases an overt act needs to be done in pursuance of the conspiracy to complete the criminal conspiracy. The Hon’ble apex court also held in State vs Nalini (1999) 5 SCC 253 (Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case) that when agreement is to do a legal act by illegal means then an overt act is necessary to constitute crime of conspiracy.

Distinction :- Both abetment and criminal conspiracy are inchaote offence. Under section 107 clause secondly one of the recognised mode of abetment is by way of engaging in conspiracy. Subsequent to addition of Sec. 120 A & B in IPC vide 1913 amendment, the conspiracy in Indian is not only a form of abatement but also a substantive offence. But despite of such close affinity, the criminal conspiracy is somewhat wider in amplitude than abetment by conspiracy as contemplated under Sec. 107 of IPC. The main distinction could be mentioned as below:-

  • An abetment may be committed by way of instigation, Engaging in conspiracy or by intentional aid but criminal conspiracy is committed by meeting of minds   or an agreement. So, criminal conspiracy is just one for form of abetment and stand in relation of species and genus respectively.
  • For an offence under the second clause of section 107 of the IPC, a mere combination of persons or agreement is not enough and an act or illegal omission must take place in pursuance of the conspiracy. But, for an offence of criminal conspiracy under section 120 A & B of the IPC, a bare agreement to commit an offence is itself enough to complete the offence without any need of overt or covert act.
  • The Sec. 107 th clause secondly is restricted to only offence. So, an abetment by conspiracy can be committed only with respect to any offence. But, section 120 A read with section 43 of the IPC brings out that criminal conspiracy can happen not only with respect to offence but also for an act which is prohibited by law or an act which leads to civil liability.
  • In case of abetment by conspiracy charge has to be framed along with the abetted offence, viz Sec. 109/302 IPC. But, an offence of criminal conspiracy is an independent offence and punishable on its own, viz Sec. 120 B IPC.
  • The act of abettor is punishable under section 108 To 117 of the IPC depending upon the situations. Whereas, the crime of criminal conspiracy is punishable under section 120 B of the IPC.
  • The abettor is not a principle offender. Whereas, in criminal conspiracy each accused is a principal offender .
  • An abetment can be committed by one or more persons , whereas conspiracy can be committed by two or more persons.

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